Football Gags

by Derrick Bang

Of all the running jokes with which poor olí Charlie Brown has been associated, none has a richer history -- nor a longer one -- that his attempts to kick the football.

The fourth quarter of each year brings Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Lucyís latest clever little ruse to persuade Charlie Brown to try one more time ... and her equally creative excuse for yet another failure.

With just a few exceptions, these Sunday strips have appeared every September or October since the strip hit its stride in the late 1950s. Thatís a lot of decades, and a lot of excuses ... which probably explains why Schulz skipped a few years, here and there. Can we blame him for not having come up with a new scheme every year???

But how did it all begin?

Believe it or not, with Violet, rather than Lucy.

Yep, Charlie Brownís very first failed kick took place when Violet held the ball for him, in the 11/14/51 daily strip. Clearly worried that he might accidentally kick her hand, she pulls away at the last second while saying, "I canít go through with it!"

Disbelievers can find this strip reprinted in PEANUTS.

Lucy's involvement began with the 11/16/52 Sunday strip, which can be seen in PEANUTS: A GOLDEN CELEBRATION. This was shortly after Lucy had been introduced, when she still looked (and was) several years younger than Charlie Brown. Aside from that, all the classic elements were in place ... and, as she pulled the football away at the last second, she explained, "I was afraid your shoes might be dirty."

But this concept did not become a regular, annual feature until 11/16/56, by which time Lucy had "grown" and become Charlie Brownís peer. Beginning with this strip, and nearly every year since, weíve been treated to yet another wonderful reason for Charlie Brownís failure.

What follows is a dated list of these strips, along with the reason for Chuckís flat-on-his-back disgrace. Unless otherwise indicated, the speaker is always Lucy.

"Iíll give you a million dollars (to try again)." (12/16/56 -- Needless to say, she didnít)

"Iím a changed person ... isnít this a face you can trust?" (9/22/57)

"I give you my bonded word." (9/21/58)

"You have to learn to be trusting..." (10/4/59)

"The odds now are really in your favor!!" (10/16/60)

This time, Chuck himself pulls back at the last moment, expecting to catch Lucy in the act. This prompts her to say, "Donít you trust anyone any more?" He then tries for real, with predictable results. (9/10/61)

Charlie Brown works himself into this old loop: "This time she knows I know she knows..." (9/30/62)

"A womanís handshake is not legally binding." (9/8/63)

"Peculiar thing about this document ... it was never notarized." (10/4/64)

(Lucy seems to be dozing.) "We fanatics are light sleepers, Charlie Brown." (10/17/65)

The ball is jerked away by a chance muscle spasm ... a "ten-billion-to-one" muscle spasm. (9/25/66)

Lucy promises a surprise: The results are the same, but then she says, "Would you like to see how that looked on instant replay?" (10/1/67)

"Look at the innocence in my eyes." (9/29/68)

(Lucy cries over his lack of faith.) "Never listen to a womanís tears, Charlie Brown." (9/28/69)

"How long, O Lord?" Charlie Brown wails, flat on his back.
"How long? All your life, Charlie Brown ... all your life." (10/11/70)

"This yearís football was pulled away from you through the courtesy of womenís lib." (9/26/71)

He tries to hedge his bets by seeking advice at Lucyís psychiatric booth, but... "Unfortunately, Charlie Brown, your average psychiatrist knows very little about kicking footballs." (10/8/72)

Lucy beguiles him with a riddle: "What are the three things in life that are certain?"
"Death and taxes," he muses, running, "and..." (11/11/73)

She shows him a theater-style program that guarantees success, but... "In every program, Charlie Brown, there are always a few last-minute changes." (10/13/74)

She accuses him of mistrusting all women, including his mother. "Iím not your mother, Charlie Brown." (10/19/75)

She tells him sheís going to pull it away, but he seems not to hear her. "Men never really listen to what women are saying, do they?" (9/12/76)

"Just watch my eyes." (But she wears sunglasses.) (10/9/77)

She gives him a banana before he begins his run, which initially puzzles him. "Bananas are high in potassium, Charlie Brown, which promotes healing of muscles." (10/1/78)

In 1979, Charlie Brown winds up in the hospital for surgery. In a fit of desperation, Lucy promises not to pull the football away the next time, if only heíll get better. Well, he obviously gets better, and all the neighborhood kids await the results. This multi-week "novelette" climaxes in the 8/2/79 daily strip, when she doesnít pull the ball away ... but Charlie Brown misses and kicks her arm instead!

By the following year, though, Lucy is up to her usual tricks: "To every thing there is a season ... and a time to pull away the football." (11/16/80)

"Again, Charlie Brown ... and again, and again and again." (11/29/81)

She mutters vaguely about symbolism, but still pulls the ball away.
"Somehow, Iíve missed the symbolism," he says.
"You also missed the ball, Charlie Brown," she replies. (10/10/82)

What seems something of a climax: Charlie Brown rebels and walks away, emphatically saying, "Iím just glad youíre the only person in the world who thinks Iím dumb enough to fall for that trick again." But, in the last panel, he sees more footballs held by Snoopy, Woodstock, Sally, Peppermint Patty and Marcie. This strip appears on the back cover of I'M NOT YOUR SWEET BABBOO (but not inside, oddly enough) and also in YOU DONíT LOOK 35, CHARLIE BROWN. (10/16/83)

And, for a few years, it seemed as though that would be it. 1984 and 1985 passed without our annual treat. But the gimmick returned in 1986, although the pattern had become a bit different. Henceforth, rather than being tricked into trying to kick the ball, Charlie Brown simply approaches this annual rite of humiliation as though it were an obligation ... along the lines of attending church each Sunday. The excuses, and Lucyís remarks, became more introspective and philosophical.

"You look forward all year to a special moment, and before you know it, itís over." (10/19/86)

(She checks a pocket calendar.) "This is the only time I can really fit you in." (10/4/87)

"Itís so sad ... eventually everything in life just becomes routine." (10/23/88)

"Think how the years go by, Charlie Brown ... think of the regrets youíll have if you never risk anything..." (10/1/89)

"Iíve been reading this book about holding the ball," she insists, in an early panel. But, then... "I wrote the book, Charlie Brown." (9/29/91)

"Iíve discovered," Sally comments, as she watches this annual ritual, "that love makes us do strange things."
"So does stupidity," her brother explains, wanting her to understand the distinction. (11/11/92)

Lucy proudly displays a new ball, but... "It suddenly occurred to me that if I let you kick it, it wouldnít be new anymore..." (10/3/93)

"How often do you think you can fool someone with the same trick?" Sally demands, watching her brother walk outside.
"Pretty often, huh?" she says, a few panels later. (10/16/94)

"If she pulls the ball away," Charlie Brown promises, "Iíll sue." Heís followed in the final panel by Snoopy in his Joe Attorney outfit ... and, in an unexpected development, we donít see him miss! (Neither do we see him succeed.) (10/29/95)

"Symbolism, Charlie Brown! The ball! The desire! The triumph! Itís all there!" (10/20/96)

"People change ... times change ... you can feel it in the air." (9/21/97)

"I have a new positive attitude," Charlie Brown announces.
"I can't believe it," Lucy replies. "...you talk the talk and you walk the walk."
And then, after the inevitable...
"But you don't kick the kick." (11/15/98)

Forced to retire from the field to eat lunch, Lucy leaves the football in Rerun's capable hands. When he walks into the house a few minutes later, she demands to know what happened.
"You'll never know," the little fellow answers, at which point she wails with frustration.
(And we don't know, either!) (10/24/99)

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